Thursday, January 5, 2012

Impermanence

Last night called to mind a life-changing experience I had. I went to a meditation session given by a Tibetan lama, Tulku Tsori Rinpoche, at the Haven for Hope, perhaps more than a year ago. This is the lama who is the spiritual guide for my Buddhist friends who live in Floresville. (Yes, imagine that -- Buddhists in Floresville! They're everywhere!)

What was striking about this experience, for me, was that I was as calm and settled as I have ever been in my life. I had that moment of spiritual transformation that people have when they are around a saint -- I wanted to follow the lama around everywhere, leave my life behind and serve him so I could have this feeling always. It's described in the Bible, when people experience Jesus and drop everything, leave their everyday lives behind to follow him.

I remember the lama talking about "impermanence" -- a central concept in Buddhism -- and how it was his kick-start to each day. Other people drink coffee, he declared. I think about -- his nostrils flared as if he was smelling the coffee brewing -- impermanence!

Well, personally, I'm still totally hooked on coffee -- among other things. I guess I can meditate on impermanence all right in the mornings, so long as a steaming cup of joe is close by. Yeah, that'll never change! (I say with assurance.) Is there coffee in heaven? A pivotal question!

Addictions aside, I have become much more aware of impermanence in life. It's amazing because things can last for a seemingly long time, like my marriage (24 years) ... Dwaine's previous job (30 years) ... where we live (18 years) ... but even these solid structures in our lives can change in a flash. Dwaine's job was gone, after 30 years, and they gave him two weeks to find his footing again. That's how change often happens, a sudden shock like a natural disaster, and you look around and say, what in God's name just happened here? Where did my comfortable, safe and predictable life go?

Dwaine's got a kidney stone, about a week and a half out from our planned vacation to go skiing! He will have surgery early next week. The trip was the first big "going-away" vacation we were thinking of since we went to South Padre over Spring Break. I don't think we have gone anywhere more than a couple of days at a time since then. On top of everything else, Dad's fighting a cold that so far has gotten worse, not better. Everything is up in the air, like always, but this time I can see that so clearly.

The old me would have been very upset at the thought of canceling a beloved vacation, especially for a bad reason! I clung to those bright spots in the dull background of my life, like vacations.

But these days, I feel more content with my life where I am, and don't hold out as much hope of a vacation magically transporting me to some incredibly happy place. Father Rohr described this phenomenon. He said he could be on the most beautiful beach in the world, and it just wouldn't be good enough. Why? It would dawn on him ... "Oh yeah, I'm still me." He could never find a place to travel that was such a paradise that he could leave behind all that personal baggage, the conflict and turmoil of his own soul! 

I am slowly learning to get to a place of relative calm, peace, even happiness, wherever I am, in whatever circumstances. Of course, I haven't tested this theory under any real great adversity, so it might not hold up.

Those mood swings that used to be a deep part of me have changed -- this is one area where I can say, Thank God for impermanence! The best part of constant change is seeing some of these stubborn bad habits finally give way, after years of work.

Speaking of impermanence, this is what brought it to mind. Dwaine and I had ourselves a little adventure last evening. I had just finished cooking dinner and putting everything out on the table. Dwaine was in the shower, an odd time for him to be, but he was feeling unwell and knew a shower would help. While he was finishing, his phone rang twice -- two missed calls. When he listened to the message, he came out to the dining room and told me, "This is a call I really don't want to make." I could see that something was really wrong.

He had gone in for an afternoon CAT scan to confirm if he had a kidney stone. The hospital had just called and said, "You need to call the radiologist right away!" Dwaine had to listen to the message again, write down the phone number, and then call. That was the longest minute or so that he and I have experienced in quite some time. So while Dwaine was fumbling with the phone, I sort of automatically started grabbing the dinner stuff off the table again and putting it back. If one thing was clear, it was that we weren't going to be dining at home!

I sat down beside him as he made the dreaded call. I tried to appear outwardly calm, but my mind was racing. What could it be? A burst appendix? Dwaine wasn't in much pain. We didn't know for sure if it was really a kidney stone at that point.

The radiologist had been unable to talk to Dwaine's doctor, and ordered him to the ER right away based on a large kidney stone that could be causing a blockage. So we went. It was the usual four-hour ordeal (which was actually quick by ER standards), and eventually we learned that the radiologist was overreacting -- there was no sign of infection, and Dwaine's condition wasn't an emergency sufficient to stay at the hospital, so long as he followed up with a urologist right away.

I started thinking about all the things we usually take for granted, like being able to sit down and eat dinner! It was such a relief that nothing was terribly wrong, this time. This was not a cancer diagnosis, or a death sentence, though Dwaine was scared out of his wits when he got the message. We joked later about the worst thing the radiologist could have said: "We've just determined, Mr. Smith, that you are clinically dead!! Get to a morgue, now!" Now that would be reason to panic. Except I suppose it's too late to panic when you are dead already!

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